The Wizard of Oz

Jul 20 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Force of nature

King’s theatre: Thurs 19 – Sat 21 July 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

There’s plenty of passion, commitment and many nuggets of true talent at the end of the rainbow of the Beyond Broadway Experience’s production of The Wizard of Oz, at the King’s to Saturday.

With 157 in the young cast and only a fortnight to bring it together, this was always in danger of becoming caught up in the twister of over-ambition. But director Drew Gowland marshals his cast brilliantly and the result is a properly entertaining production.

Sarah Kerr, Matthew Steel, Matthew Taylor and Jamie Duffy. Pic Beyond Broadway Productions.

Sarah Kerr, Matthew Steel, Matthew Taylor and Jamie Duffy. Pic Beyond Broadway Productions.

This is the RSC version of the musical – the one which draws most heavily on the original 1939 movie and has quite a large chunk of scene setting in Kansas before Dorothy Gale gets caught up in her own twister and goes over the rainbow to Oz.

It’s seen through a darkening scrim under Amy Levene’s design, all very brown. It’s a chance for the principals – notably the three farm hands – to establish the characteristics which will be emphasised in the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion who Dorothy will meet on her travels down the Yellow Brick Road.

Given the timescales involved, it is not surprising that this is more about caricature and comedy than providing great depth. But all three provide quite discernible traits, while Imogene Hoppe and Logan Kean create busy farm owners in Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, who clearly love their niece Dorothy.

Sarah Kerr is the real source of depth here, though. Her Dorothy is properly infuriating as a character – any parent will recognise the child who just won’t understand their need to get on with something important. She has the singing voice to deliver a properly authentic Over the Rainbow. Relaxing on the upper register a bit would help, but her understanding of the lyrics is obvious.

clear and surprisingly pacy

Indeed the singing is particularly strong throughout, from both soloists and the chorus, while the diction in all the lines – sung and said – is both clear and surprisingly pacy. Great work there from musical director Neil Metcalfe and his team.

Matthew Steel (Scarecrow) and Crow Dancers. Pic: Beyond Broadway Productions

Matthew Steel (Scarecrow) and Crow Dancers. Pic: Beyond Broadway Productions

The one real place for caricature lies with the vile Miss Gulch, who wants to steal Dorothy’s dog Toto (played with proper cuteness and impeccable stage behaviour by Kala). Caitlin Forret is suitably vile, but could stamp a larger authority on the role – and indeed her Wicked Witch of the West who is ripe for pantomime levels of villainy.

In a production with so many in the cast, the set becomes minimal. Amy Levene’s graphic design, lit by MM Sound and Lighting, uses plenty of back projections and a cluster of hanging banners to move the scenes on. While the costumes of the huge choruses becomes most effective living scenery.

The one piece of set belongs to Taylor Williams’ distinctly dubious Professor Chester Marvel, who manages to persuade Dorothy not to run away – and is later an equally dubious sort as the Wizard himself. And even that is little more than a table and crystal ball.

How then, do you get a twister going and Dorothy off over her rainbow, with cows, witches and barns flying past? Simples: by means of interpretative dance. Controversial and hardly trendy but, with such a wealth of performers at their disposal, choreographers Murray Grant and Louise Ferrier make it an obvious solution.

force of nature

And it is in this moment, when the twister strikes, the wind blows up and wave upon wave of dancers create the powerful vortex that carries Dorothy off, that the show itself takes off.

There is a real sense of the dynamic power and force of nature on the stage – which couldn’t be achieved with graphics or solid scenery.

The 157-strong cast of The Wizard of Oz. Pic Beyond Broadway Productions.

The 157-strong cast of The Wizard of Oz. Pic: Beyond Broadway Productions.

Then up goes the scrim, out come the rainbow colours, everything is a whole lot brighter and oh yes Toto, we aren’t in Kansas any more…

It’s time, of course, for the Munchkins. All 49 of them, directed by Mark Cameron with Simon Hanson as MD, who are as cute and loveable as they should be. There are particularly entertaining turns from Corey Learmonth as the Mayor and Max Coussins as Coroner, but really, this is excellence all round.

Ailsa Maplesden proves an imperious Glinda the Good Witch, easily in charge of her stage and providing a smooth transition in all her magical interventions, no matter how incongrous they feel to any logic in the plot.

Once Dorothy gets onto her Yellow Brick Road the meetings with her three new best friends are all excellently done and once again are as powerful as they are because of the strength of the choral dance work.

Matthew Steel gives a nicely subtle performance as Scarecrow. A strong all-rounder from his physical performance to his singing voice, his great achievement is to convince from early on that his character’s supposed lack of a brain is a complete nonsense.

sense of dark purpose

The crows – led by Marnie Roy-Sweeney, Abigail McAdam and Nadia Smith – are effectively coordinated as a somewhat raggle taggle group (as crows should be). In complete contrast to the apple trees who hide the Tin Man. Led by Beth Williamson, Ellie Hemmings and Georgia Brennan, there is a real angularity and sense of dark purpose to their routines.

Clare Wootton (Emerald City Guard) and Ozians. Pic Beyond Broadway Productions

Clare Wootton (Emerald City Guard) and Ozians. Pic: Beyond Broadway Productions

As for the Tin Man, Jamie Duffy is convincing in all the right areas. He has a lovely voice for If I Had a Heart, while his deadpan delivery of the comedy lines is just what is needed. Matthew Taylor takes on the more tricky role of Lion with a certain panache, but is somewhat over-burdened by his costume.

Given the level of performance in the dancing, it is not surprising that the poppy field sequence is particularly fine. The reds of the poppy dancers are effectively cancelled out by the whites of the snowflakes, in a situation where the force of numbers really works. Individually, it would be quite naff – but on a packed stage it is particularly effective.

Once in to the Emerald City – guided by the pleasingly self-confident and assured creation of the Guard by Clare Wootton – the Ozians allow the chorus to create more individual characters within the ensemble.

The second half is never quite as seamless as the first, but it does have a great standout moment in the The Jitterbug. Somewhat neglected against the show’s more iconic numbers, once again the dance and choreography come into sway.

All round this is a solid production which doesn’t just provide an entertaining version of a great musical, but creates one which couldn’t be replicated on a professional stage.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Thursday 19 – Saturday 21 July 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Fri: 3pm & Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:

The Beyond Broadway website:
Facebook: @beyondbroadwayltd.
Twitter: @BeyondBway.


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  1. Fiona Rennie says:

    This was an excellent show and we loved it from start to finish.
    A packed stage with so much talent.
    So proud that my grandaughter Morgan Ness and her friends from her dancing school were able to be part of it all.
    Remarkable how it could be put together in such a short period of time.

  2. Brian Taylor says:

    What an Amazing evening, Very Surprised how well the show was and all done in such a short time.

    The staff, the kids and everyone else who took part to make this a remarkable event must have all worked very hard, a pat on the back to everyone and I hope their inspirations grow from this.